Brock Nelson walked to Madison Square Garden from the Islanders’ hotel, and the differences between this regular season and the summer’s postseason, played in sequestered arena/practice rink/hotel bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, were starkly evident.
"It’s different," Nelson said after Friday’s practice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow. "There’s different challenges with both. The bubble was tough. You leave your family, you said goodbye and you said, ‘I’ll see you when I see you.’ That might be nine days. It might be three months.
"It’s felt like quite some time since we played a regular game. You’re out on the road in a city going to an away rink. You walk to the game. You almost feel like you’re doing something wrong. You’re not."
The Islanders will face the Rangers again on Saturday night at the Garden after a dominating 4-0 win in Thursday night’s season opener for both teams.
Nelson, who tied a career high last season with 26 goals even though the COVID-19 pandemic limited the Islanders to 68 games, opened the scoring Thursday with a power-play goal at 2:33 of the first period.
The Islanders scored three goals in the first period and went 2-for-8 on the power play.
For the most part, they looked like the seasoned team that advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in September while the Rangers’ inexperience clearly showed.
But Nelson said there also were parts of the game that felt like a season opener played after a rapid 10-day training camp without preseason games.
"We gave up some opportunities," he said. "There are a couple of areas you can clean up. The penalty kill [3-for-3] was huge, that’s always good. The power play, we got a couple. We had eight opportunities. With eight opportunities, you’d obviously hope you get a couple. You can’t expect to have that many opportunities every night. I expect [Saturday] will probably be a little bit of a different game.
"It was the first game for everybody," Nelson added. "With no preseason, it is a little bit different. Maybe we’re trying to feel it out to some extent. You prepare as best you can to get right into it this year. But you can’t simulate the game speed."
Notes & quotes: Coach Barry Trotz did not name a starting goalie for Saturday. Semyon Varlamov is coming off a 29-save shutout and Ilya Sorokin is waiting to make his debut. "To me, it’s about winning hockey games," Trotz said. "We will get everybody in." Trotz indicated he could make a lineup change. Leo Komarov, a healthy scratch on Thursday, rotated with Kieffer Bellows on Jean-Gabriel Pageau’s line during Friday’s practice . . . Goalie Cory Schneider was added to the taxi squad and practiced after finalizing a one-year, $700,000 deal.